The new minister for tourism, Bel Busquets, admitted last week that at the tail end of last year and the beginning of this one, the Balearic tourism industry was slightly nervous and concerned about the revival of traditional competing destinations such as Greece, Turkey, Egypt and even Tunisia. However, the latest British market reports and industry messages indicate that the Balearics has little to fear and this season will be as good, if not better, than last year.
Last year, for example, the British market was 7.5 per cent up on the previous year, with 4,420,000 holidaymakers coming to the islands and spending 6.2 per cent more, and the minister is quietly confident that the figure will increase this year.
Already, the British market has performed extremely strongly. During January and February, the number of British visitors was 25 per cent higher than during the same period last year with 70,000 coming to the Balearics and the vast majority of those to Majorca. In fact, due to the demise of Monarch, Minorca was well down, so Majorca pulled off a major turnaround in the UK winter market, which the minster is extremely pleased about.
" 'Better in winter' is our primary message, and we are going to continue promoting this at fairs and congresses around the world.
"It is not a case of wanting fewer tourists. The anti-tourist protest last year was a one-off and by no means do we support the movement. Tourism is the foundation stone of the local economy, but what we would like to see - and it is happening - is a longer season with more tourists spread out during the year.
"Yes, saturation is an issue. Obviously, northern Europeans want some sun and beach time after the long cold winters and we fully understand and respect that, but at the same time, there is so much more to the Balearics which can be enjoyed in the spring and the autumn. We are in talks with the hoteliers and at the end of this month we will be meeting the airlines in Bilbao to discuss maintaining existing routes and the possibility of adding extra services or at least starting them earlier.
"From our conversations with local hoteliers they will open earlier if there are the flights, so we are gradually cracking the chicken-and-egg situation. If we can secure flights from March to November, then we can prolong the season and ease the pressure on the region’s infrastructure and environment. The other issue is the cruise ships. Yes, we had the largest in the world with some 7,000 passengers in port yesterday, but it was the only liner in Palma and it was a Sunday, so the city businesses will have welcomed the tourists who came ashore, and that is normally about 90 per cent.
"But the problem is when we have six cruise ships in port at the same time. That could mean the best part of around 24,000 passengers coming into the city and that does exert a lot of pressure on the capital’s infrastructure, businesses and municipal services, such as street cleaning. Restaurants and bars are not prepared for such a surge of clients, so perhaps services and quality slip in a bid to cater for so many people and we don’t want quality standards suffering.
"But we do not control the ports, the ports authority and the state do, so we can lobby them but we have no direct control over port movements. However, what we pride ourselves on is quality and that does come at a price, not just here but everywhere and that raises the topic of the tourist tax.
"To begin with, we are not the only region in Europe or the world which charges tourist or accommodation taxes, and many charge a lot more. I was recently on business in Brussels and I was charged four euros per night, while the other day I was in Ibiza for a meeting and had to pay 83 cents. We are aware that there is a certain amount of animosity to the tourist tax, but this year all the hotels will have leaflets explaining what the tax is for and how it is being spent.
"The way we look at it is that people coming to the Balearics are helping by making a small contribution towards the upkeep and improvements of this little piece of paradise to which, in the case of the British in particular, have been coming for generations. We want them to keep coming but at the same time we want to continue looking after the environment, culture, heritage, natural resources and atmosphere; and that does cost money.
"When it comes to hotel prices, one has to bear in mind that we live in a free market, so we can’t dictate to the hoteliers what they charge and nor can we ban all-inclusive resorts. That said, the number of all-inclusive hotels is gradually dropping because an increasing number of visitors are building their own packages and are tending to prefer exploring the island more. But all-inclusive hotels serve an important role. They are perfect, for example, for families. They have their budget, know what they’ve paid and don’t have to worry about money while on holiday. Again, though, we want all-inclusive resorts to provide quality."
"A nine-month season is long enough. Hotels need two to three months a year to carry out repairs, renovations and improvements while the staff also need a break. The private and public sectors are working well in improving the standards and quality and this is having a positive effect.
"A prime example is Magalluf. Yes, there are still problems with prostitutes and muggings. This again is an issue for the state. We and Calvia town hall are doing all we can within our powers to combat the problem and over the past few years there has certainly been a drop in the number of incidents.
"Primarily, this is because of the money which has been invested in the resort. The renovations and upgrading of hotels have created a more positive environment which deters people from causing trouble. At the end of the day, the problem in Magalluf is just one street and this year the town hall is going to be taking a very tough stance on any anti-social behaviour.
"It’s not just Magalluf. Palma town hall is having to deal with Playa de Palma and what we have said to the central government is that we need more police on the beat. It is quite amazing the effect a member of the National Police or Guardia Civil on the beat has on holidaymakers, so we need a greater police presence. But thanks to private and public investment and initiatives, Magalluf is much calmer than it was and is becoming a family resort again, and that is our goal.
"You don’t have to get drunk to have a good time, well not in the Balearics anyway, and that is another message we are transmitting with the help of the British government via social media and direct information channels. The British government has launched a campaign alerting people to the laws, rules and regulations in holiday resorts and saying that they should respect them along with the environment and the local community around them.
"It is all about finding the right balance and sometimes, such as the case with holiday rentals, it can be difficult. On the one hand we welcome them. For the interior of the islands, holiday rentals generate a very important part of local income. Generally, holidaymakers renting properties also hire cars and travel about the island. They shop at the local supermarkets and stores and they eat out, all the while creating jobs because these properties need to be maintained.
"But the downside, especially in Palma for example, is access to housing for seasonal workers and the community in general, hence why we came up with zoning. While we want to make sure that those villages and towns which depend on holiday lets continue to do so, we also want to ensure that people looking for long-term accommodation do not get frozen out of the market or are charged high rents.
"Obviously, we want legal lets to provide quality, which is why we are regulating them and also making sure that property owners pay their corresponding rates and taxes and inform the state authorities about who is staying - just like hotels do. It’s all part of maintaining high security levels so that visitors can feel relaxed and safe while on holiday.
"But it’s the winter we are targeting. We are promoting all the sporting opportunities, in particular cycling, with an ever-increasing amount of hotels and restaurants offering all the services cyclists need. There are also the mountains, hiking, culture, wine tours, nature, spas and wellness breaks and gastronomy.
"In Palma, the latter could, however, be a little bit more Majorcan. We have all the franchises which can be found all over the world and perhaps we have lost a little of that Majorcan feel in Palma. We would like to see more restaurants serving traditional food and using local products. Get outside of Palma and there are plenty of excellent local restaurants, but in the city there are very few. That is a shame because keeping the local agricultural industry afloat is all part of our sustainable tourism plan. We can’t have an industry which is based on three months of the year. It damages the island, people’s way of life and does little for the employment market.
"Like I said, we want people to continue coming to this little piece of paradise and we very much appreciate their contribution in helping to protect it."
The content of comment is the opinion of users and netizens and not of mallorcadailybulletin.com.
Comments contrary to laws, which are libellous, illegal or harmful to others are not permitted');
mallorcadailybulletin.com - reserves the right to remove any inappropriate comments.
Please remember that you are responsible for everything that you write and that data which are legally required can be made available to the relevant public authorities and courts; these data being name, email, IP of your computer as well as information accessible through the systems.